One of the biggest problems with bad therapists is that you often fail to recognize their professional ineptitude. Instead, you wind up thinking it’s you, your partner, or your relationship.
So here are some ways to tell when it’s not you; it’s your therapist.
1) Lecturing, condescending, and shaming
Do you often feel like you can’t get a word in? As if your therapist is laying out road map for how your relationship should be and your job is just to follow that path? Like you’re doing something wrong by not behaving consistent with the therapist’s expectations?
Please know this: Therapy is an art, not a science. While a therapist may (and probably should) be grounded in theory, your relationship is unique, and your therapist needs to do a lot more listening than talking.
A lot of emotions will surface in couples therapy. If shame is one of them–a sense that you are not worthy or acceptable–then think about whether the feeling is being fostered by the therapist.
Unconditional positive regard is a crucial ingredient in therapy. Is that what you’re receiving?
2) Clearly taking sides
This should trouble you even if you’re the one whose side the therapist is taking. That’s because it undermines your relationship’s progress, and can exacerbate any rifts and conflicts that exist.
If you often leave therapy saying (or even just thinking) that you were proven right, or that you were proven wrong, that’s a sign of a bad therapist.
3) Focusing only on the relationship, to the exclusion of individual needs and feelings
The relationship is the client, in a sense, when you’re doing couples therapy. But a prerequisite for couples work is attending to each person’s individual emotional needs. The therapist should be checking in on the individual impact of the therapy.
One of the critical skills for a couples therapist is being able to attend to the emotional needs of each person, making sure no one becomes so overwhelmed that it prevents him or her from participating in the process or undermines the clients’ functioning outside the room. Make sure your therapist is taking care of you both emotionally.
4) Focusing on the individual, to the exclusion of the relationship dynamics
Some therapists are a little intimidated by the intensity that can occur during couples therapy. So they end up essentially doing individual therapy with each partner, in the presence of the other.
Your problem is a dynamic one. It’s about how you relate to each other. While looking at some individual issues will be part of it, the therapist needs to help you engage productively with each other.
5) Not accepting your feedback about the therapy
If your therapy isn’t working (possibly for one of the reasons mentioned above), you might want to bring it up with the therapist. The therapist’s reaction will tell you a lot about whether you can proceed.
He/she should appreciate that you’re looking out for yourself and your relationship, that you were assertive, and that you want therapy to be more effective. If the response is defensive, argumentative, or manipulative (i.e. trying to make you feel like your perspective is wrong), then it’s REALLY time to run for the hills.
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